Newry.ie

The Public Health Agency have said they can't provide a dual Covid-19 testing facility at the present site at the Albert Basin in Newry. It follows a call at Thursday's Strategy, Policy and Resources meeting of Newry, Mourne and Down Council from Newry City Councillor Michael Savage. Cllr Savage asked council officials to contact the Agency to investigate the possibility of having both a walk in and drive in facility, either on the existing site or elsewhere.

In a reply to a query from Newry.ie a spokesperson for the Public Health Agency said that due to safety restrictions the site cannot provide both pedestrian and vehicle access and that the present walk through facility aims to improve the accessibility of testing. They also added that people can be dropped of at the entrance but added that for people with mobility issues a home test may be a more suitable option.

It was the second time in a month that Cllr Michael Savage talked about issues surrounding the Covid-19 testing site at the Albert Basin and Councillors agreed that management would once again contact the Public Health Agency. The Agency were contacted earlier in January by a Council officer following a request to do so at the monthly Council meeting by Cllr Savage.

The walk-in Covid-19 test site at the Albert Basin. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
The walk-in Covid-19 test site at the Albert Basin. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

At Thursdays meeting Cllr Savage said "I'm very disappointed that he had to deal with a verbal response from them and get back to me with a summary of that"

"From an elected representative perspective the PHA don't seem to have taken the emotional and family concern element around this seriously."

Harrowing

Cllr Savage said he had several GP Practices on to him with "harrowing stories" that some people had to go through on the site and said a facility mentioned by the PHA allowing people to be dropped off within the site had been poorly communicated.

The Newry City Councillor said "I notice within the response they have indicated there is facility for drop-off inside the site. That's been very very poorly communicated to the public in that we have had a lot of elderly and very frail people facing what they believe to be a very harrowing walk down there to get tested."

Cllr Michael Savage

"For example I had one local woman that had been attending a local GP and had been going through extensive chemotherapy. Her husband was diagnosed with Covid the day before. She had been very unwell herself and because of her treatment and how weak she was, she wasn't able to make the journey on foot as she believed, down the Albert Basin and was forced to drive on her own because she was symptomatic and had been in contact with her husband, to Craigavon. It was a harrowing journey and she tested positive with a result next day."

Cllr Savage continued "I've another example of an 89 year old woman who had to make the journey down that stretch of the Albert Basin on a very frosty night petrified and in tears because she was afraid of breaking her hip again.

"This is the Public Health Authority. They're supposed to be looking after the interests and the welfare of the public and their health and I believe they need to listen very clearly to the people and what they are saying. We need a dual facility in Newry."

Cllr Oonagh Hanlon added  "I don't see why there isn't a dual facility there. It's not really lending itself to a walk-in."

Cllr Oonagh Hanlon.

MLA Justin McNulty has also spoken to PHA representatives about the issue "Over recent months the testing facility at the Albert Basin has changed from being accessible drive through facility to one which is inaccessible to the frail, elderly and disabled. As it is currently set up, those needing tested have to large distances in the freezing cold and in the dark. This is lunacy at any time, but given the current period of prolonged cold weather this could be potentially putting lives at risk.’

"Having been contacted by a number of concerned constituents I have made spoken to representatives of the Public Health Agency and have also raised my concerns at the highest levels within the organisation. This must be rectified as a priority."

Safety Restrictions

In reply to Newry.ie a Public Health Agency Spokesperson said "A temporary drive-through coronavirus testing facility was in place at the Albert Basin from October 2020. This was one of several Mobile Testing Units (MTUs) which operate across Northern Ireland to provide a temporary testing site that can be set up quickly in response to local need, but it also meant it could have been redeployed to another location at any time.

"A new static walk-through testing facility opened at the same site on Monday 21 December, replacing the temporary MTU and providing a longer-term service for the local community.

"Walk-through testing aims to improve the accessibility of coronavirus testing, enabling people who do not drive to have rapid access to testing on foot. A number of these units have been opened across the region."

Continuing the Spokesperson said "The new site, due to safety restrictions, cannot provide both pedestrian and vehicle access together. The site does allow for people to be dropped off by car at the entrance. For people with mobility issues, a home test may be a more suitable option. Home test kits can be ordered in the same way as booking a test at a mobile or static testing unit, except the test will be sent to your house to complete. The test swab sample can then be returned by post and a result will be received in the usual manner. People can also book a test at an MTU if one is in the greater Newry area at the time when a test is required.

"By providing a mix of walk-through, drive-through and home testing options across Northern Ireland, we can maximise equality of access and help ensure that people who need to get tested can do so in a way that suits their needs."

Testing Information

Testing is only available for those with coronavirus symptoms – a high temperature, or a new continuous cough, or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste. If you have any of the symptoms, don’t delay, book a test. Details of how to book a test and testing facilities can be found at CVTESTING

When getting to and from a walk-through test site please remember:

  • Travel directly to and from home and the test site.
  • Wear a face covering.
  • Do not use public transport or taxis.
  • Do not go to any shops.
  • Avoid touching surfaces.

Don’t forget – you and members of your household must self-isolate while waiting for your test and test results.

Current locations

At present the closest Drive in facility is at Silverbridge GAC, Fords Cross followed by Central Sports Arena, Kernan Hill Road, Craigavon

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